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Maestro Chung Myung-whun holds on to the dream of oneness

Bringing people together with music is maestro Chung Myung-whun’s lifetime calling, a calling he has answered this time with One Korea Orchestra, formed specifically for two concerts marking the first anniversary of Lotte Concert Hall on Friday and Saturday.

Maestro Chung Myung-whun rehearses with One Korea at Lotte Concert Hall, Seoul, Wednesday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Maestro Chung Myung-whun rehearses with One Korea at Lotte Concert Hall, Seoul, Wednesday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

Chung conceived the idea for One Korea Orchestra in 2013 with the goal of musicians from both South and North Korea performing together.

In September 2011, it was reported that Chung had secured an agreement with North Korean officials in Pyongyang for a joint South-North Korea orchestra to perform in their respective capitals. However, that failed to materialize and Chung had to contend with bringing a North Korean orchestra to Paris.

In 2012, 70 members of North Korea’s Eunhasu Orchestra performed in Paris with the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Chung.

Now, Chung has taken up the dream of bringing musicians together with an orchestra composed of musicians from orchestras around the country and abroad.

Tonight’s concert featuring One Korea Orchestra led by Chung and pianist Cho Seong-jin, the 2015 winner of the prestigious International Chopin Piano Competition, will feature Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, popularly known as the “Emperor Concerto,” and the rousing Beethoven Symphony No. 5, also known as “The Destiny.”

“The power of this piece (Symphony No. 5) comes from liberty, freedom. They are values that Beethoven considered the most important. As a musician, Beethoven speaks what is deep within him,” said Chung at a press conference held Wednesday at Lotte Concert Hall. “The force of Beethoven’s fight for freedom expresses itself in the piece,” he said, likening the first movement to “opening the doors wide open.”

Beethoven explores the internal struggles, the beauty and in the end proclaims victory over it all, Chung explained.

The One Korea Orchestra shares similar values with the Asia Philharmonic, which he founded 20 years ago. “There was much tension in Asia at the time,” Chung noted, and he sought to promote understanding by bringing together musicians from different countries in the region. “That orchestra was possible because of the Tokyo International Forum,” he said, saying that this time, Lotte Concert Hall had stepped up to the plate.

“I was looking for a way to bring qualified musicians from various orchestras in Korea to perform together and Lotte anniversary concert became an opportunity,” said Chung.

As for the temporary nature of the orchestra, Chung said that he sees this as just the beginning. “I don’t want it to be a one-time thing. But it will not be a full-time orchestra,” he said, adding that it could perhaps be called together once a year.

While One Korea Orchestra’s future is not certain as of yet, One Korea Youth Orchestra which will give its first performance in January 2018 under Chung will be a permanent fixture at Lotte Concert Hall, performing in summer and winter.

Chung has not relinquished his hopes of forming a joint South-North orchestra.

“I continue to look for opportunities to perform together with North Korea. If there is even an opportunity to form a joint orchestra, on condition that nothing else is attached, I’ll accept it on the spot,” said Chung, who will be donating his fees for the Lotte anniversary concerts to a charity organization involved with North Korean children.

By Kim Hoo-ran (
Korea Herald Youtube